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Surf rescue

Surf rescue

The Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club is saving lives in the water and on the beaches along Ireland’s west coast. We speak with co-founder Peter Conroy to discover more.

Surfing isn’t just a sport for warm weather water, it’s a global passion. In fact, Ireland’s reputation as a surfing hotspot continues to grow, despite weather that is somewhat different to Australia or California – places like Lahinch, Bundoran and Tramore are all ports of call for surfers from Ireland and beyond. Though undoubtedly exhilarating, surfing can be also a dangerous sport. There’s a very real chance of drowning, of being overcome by waves that are stronger than they appear, of being caught in riptides or washing up on the rocks. However, if you get into difficulty on the west coast of Ireland, chances are you could be rescued by a Dublin Fire Brigade firefighter or one of his colleagues from the Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club.

The club was co-founded by Peter Conroy, a firefighter based in No 3, who joined the brigade in 2004 after completing a Master’s in International Disasters Engineering & Management from Coventry University. Water was always in his blood, growing up as a competitive swimmer and discovering the world of surfing while lifeguarding on the beaches of Clare. During his down-time, Peter would take a board and hit the waves around the Cliffs of Moher, quickly becoming hooked on the sport.

As the years went by he began tackling larger and larger waves, surfing both in summer and winter, and five years ago he was nominated for one of the top five biggest barrels (the hollow part of the wave when it is breaking) surfed in the world, representing Ireland at the XXL awards in LA. “It was the Oscars of surfing, featuring the best in the business,” Peter explains. “I had pictures on my wall of people who were over there, and I was in the same category as them!”

Club members with Coast Guard Rescue 115. Photo: Peter Conroy. Main image: Team members in the sea at the Cliffs of Moher, where some of the most dangerous rescues are carried out. Photo: Clem McInerney

Tow rescue

The Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club was born out of his love of surfing, founded in 2006 after Peter began tow-in surfing – surfers are towed into a breaking wave by a partner on a jet ski in order to catch higher and faster moving swells. Surfing one day beneath the Cliffs of Moher, Peter was trapped and was forced to swim through 20-foot waves to safety as the jet skis were unable to reach him. Relaxing in a pub afterwards, he and his friends realised that they should be able to rescue themselves, and others. A trainer from England was brought in to demonstrate the uses of the jet ski beyond its towing capabilities, and the group realised that the skis could be used for rescue purposes.

“With my degree and my work in the fire brigade, I started to implement more procedures that would allow us to be much safer out there on the water,” he says. “I broke my back a few years ago – we had a ski out there and the sled on the back could be used as a spinal board, so it’s very handy that way.”

From there the club’s reach began to expand, rescuing surfers in distress along the west coast and putting rescue boxes in place at the bottom of cliffs containing medical supplies, a VHF radio, survival suits and other useful items, ensuring that the team could access medical supplies in places unreachable by the skis. The group also began installing defibrillators in local hotels, which benefits both surfers or others in distress in the water or on the beaches, as well as the local community. They also coordinate with other voluntary emergency services like the Coast Guard, working where they cannot go or assisting rescues when required. Regular training exercises are carried out with the Coast Guard in Shannon, though the Club tries to involve the Coast Guard as little as possible, dealing with minor incidents on their own.

“We mainly concentrate on whitewater work, anything from the beach to 300 metres out, that’s our speciality. The Coast Guard isn’t allowed in there anymore – in the summertime there are lifeguards on the beach from 11am to 7am to deal with that area, but once you reach rocks and similar terrain there’s nobody really to cover it,” says Peter. “We’re trying to promote the Club in such a way that the Coast Guard can call on us as a speciality operator to implement rescues. They know we can do it, because they’ve called on us on occasion in the past.”

A training session with the Danish Lifeguard Federation on jet ski familiarisation. Photo: Peter Conroy

Developments

Looking ahead, Peter hopes that the club will continue to grow, welcoming new members alongside vital financial support to fund their operations, equipment and training. The club is now certifying people in Rescue Jetski Operations, a three-day course on Friday evening, Saturday and Sundays that trains competent rescue jet ski operators and swimmers.

“We’re pushing that more, and we’re also doing more with different organisations, like the Coast Guard helicopter,” says Peter. “We were down at the EMS Gathering in Kinsale [this year], working with them to demonstrate that the jet ski and the rescue sled on the back are the only thing that a water rescue needs, because it’s the only thing you can transport a spinal case on without compromising C spine. There is no way of putting a person with a spine injury onto a boat without comprising C spine, and if the helicopter comes they’ll winch with a broken back. We have a sled we can transport them on and bring them back to a harbour while keeping them secure.”

For more information on the rescue club or how to join, search for Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club on Facebook.

Firefighting on high

A team from Dublin Fire Brigade has been working hard on updating and developing the brigade’s high rise firefighting plan, coordinated by District Officer John Chubb. 

When you think of a city dominated by high rise buildings, Dublin doesn’t immediately spring to mind. New York, of course, and Tokyo. London perhaps, and Dubai. However the term high rise buildings, as B watch District Officer John Chubb explains, doesn’t solely refer to buildings that tower 50 or 60 stories above ground level, but rather those of five stories and above.

“A more focused way to describe it is a building that the fire service has to depend on the provisions within for fire safety, whether active or passive, such as sprinkler systems, dry riser systems, smoke control and ventilation systems. Any structure that necessitates moving away from our fire appliances, which is our toolbox, and start depending on the builders’ and the engineers’ vision of fire safety, we would regard as a structure that requires firefighting tactics appropriate to high rise,” he says.

Measured approach

Fires in high rise buildings require more complicated operational approaches than most structure fires. Tasks that are normally considered routine for most fire departments, such as locating and attacking the fire, evacuating occupants, and performing ventilation can become very difficult in high rises. As a result, Dublin Fire Brigade’s high rise emergency management plan is currently undergoing an extensive update by a team led by D/O Chubb. It’s by no means a new concept for the city – a plan was put in place for the towers in Ballymun back in the 1960s – but changes in Dublin’s built environment in recent years have necessitated a response.

“In essence, any fire department anywhere in the world is in a constant state of revision – they continually evolve to account for the characteristics of the built environment,” says D/O Chubb. “In the last 10 years we have had an explosion of building here – at its peak in 2006 we were building 100,000 properties per year. In addition, government policy is looking towards housing a growing population, starting to lean towards more and more high-density buildings. DFB has been evolving its strategies, taking note of these developments.”

Updating and developing a high rise firefighting plan that takes into consideration the myriad challenges these buildings present is no easy task. Alongside changing scenarios once you travel 10 or 20 floors into the sky, DFB’s current fleet of aerial appliances can reach a maximum height of seven stories, which means that interior operations have to be conducted in buildings beyond that level, reducing the tactical options available to incident command. Though vehicles capable of scaling larger heights are available on the market, Dublin’s infrastructure has to be taken into account, in particular a warren of narrow streets that wider vehicles simply couldn’t pass through. Elevators within these buildings are not always suitable for firefighters – special firefighting lifts are required that can overcome issues associated with smoke and water ingress. Multiple occupancies also pose a significant threat. In a smaller apartment block you might have four or five families, and evacuation can be carried out quickly and efficiently. In a high rise building that could combine offices with residential apartments, that number can quickly rise into the hundreds.

There are other issues too. Reflex time (the time it takes from arrival on scene to getting water on the fire) can be increased greatly – a high rise situation necessitates moving equipment from the fire tender to higher floors, rather than simply running hose from an appliance across the street and into a normal two-storey house. Water pressure is another concern; when you try to move water to elevated levels you’re trying to overcome gravity and you lose the pressure required to operate the standard fog nozzle. To counter that they’ve gone back to the smooth bore nozzles, which require less pressure to get water from A to B.

The impact on personnel cannot be underestimated either. Before they add any equipment, the average firefighter will carry around 10kg of PPE, excluding a BA set. Add a hose, forcible entry equipment and accountability systems used to track personnel inside a fireground and you’re pushing 25kg, the limit recommended by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). The brigade’s personnel are undoubtedly a hardy bunch, well trained and well drilled, but hefting 25kg up 20 stories in smoke and heat can get quite tiring very fast.

“All things considered, we’re dealing with a very complicated fire, we’re dealing with delays in getting our assets and our resources to a point where we can deploy them, and we have issues with command and control, because the command communication chain is extended by the difference in where the commander would have to set up and where the firefighters are going to deploy,” D/O Chubb explains. “You’ve also got an issue with communication because of Faraday shielding in steel structures, which sometimes makes radio communication impossible.”

Training with the smoke curtain. Photos courtesy John Chubb

Plans in place

The process of updating DFB’s high rise response plan began back in mid-2016 (though incremental modifications have always been put in place), scheduled to run for two years although D/O Chubb believes that it will be ready well in advance of the deadline. The project is multi-tiered and features multiple work streams, incorporating health and safety, fire prevention, EMS, operations and external partners. Insight from those within the brigade has proven vital – fire prevention officers have provided their in-depth knowledge in relation to building regulations, while the team has also utilised external engineering expertise. EMS staff have also provided insight into how EMS operations must be conducted within the high rise structure as opposed to exterior to a building on fire.

The above challenges, and others, are the focus of this plan, and D/O Chubb and his team have looked to their colleagues beyond Ireland’s borders in search of best practice and innovation, considering and investigating a number of innovative devices already in use in brigades across the world. Take the smoke curtain, an ingeniously simple device that can be affixed over the doorway to a burning room, preventing smoke from filtering into the rooms or corridors beyond, aiding evacuation procedures and reducing smoke damage. Or the Fognail, which allows responders to fight fire from outside a room by penetrating the walls or doors using the tool and injecting a fine water mist inside.

Once the plan has been completed, the next step will be disseminating its contents to all fire brigade personnel through comprehensive training and continuous professional development programmes. “A challenge that we have when we develop new practices or techniques is that we have to be sure that we disseminate that information in an even-handed way, and that the actual message is standardised. Essentially what we’re doing is we’re developing a curriculum. We have identified two key areas: the skills people need to have, and the knowledge they need to have,” says D/O Chubb.

Practical skills include firefighting shaft operations, firefighting tactics, ventilation strategies, working with a building’s water supply, search operations, EMS operations, and command and control. The cognitive element is also important, and the curriculum will educate personnel on fire alarm systems, high rise building construction, firefighting lifts, fire behaviour, sprinkler systems and smoke control systems, providing a well-rounded knowledge base on which the brigade can build.

This project is far from being a paper exercise in procedures and policies. D/O Chubb describes B watch HQ as the “fulcrum” of the project; testing the effectiveness of the strategies developed, discovering what does and doesn’t work, and pushing themselves to their limits, augmented by crews from Phibsborough, Donnybrook and North Strand. Two full-scale exercises have been carried out in high rise buildings across the city, and many more conducted in HQ, all of which will contribute to future learnings and the final plan.

“The crews are doing much more than is expected of them on a daily basis, and their response has been phenomenal,” says D/O Chubb, who stresses that he’s merely a facilitator in developing these plans, and that nothing would happen without cooperation at all levels of the brigade. “It’s a big project, one that couldn’t function if we didn’t have support from the top down. We’ve had to query every single thing we do, and ask hard questions of ourselves. And once you have that type of honesty, and you know where to look for the latest ideas or best practice, you usually end up with positive results,” he adds. “A lot of work was done in New York and in the UK. We have an open mind and we’re happy to look at what’s out there and take the best from everyone. My job, effectively, is to learn from what other people have developed, to stand on the shoulders of their expertise. It really is a team effort.”

On parade: Recruit Class 1/2017

Class 1/2017 successfully completed their training programme at the end of May.

The passout parade is organised as a graduation ceremony for the recruits and their families and friends, and provides them with an opportunity to showcase the skills they have learned over the past 16 weeks to their loved ones. With the sun beating down on the OBI’s training yard at the end of May, a total of 50 recruits from Class 1/2017 received their scrolls and completed the passout ceremony, looking forward to the beginning of their new careers – 48 from Dublin Fire Brigade and two from Waterford Fire Service. The average age of Class 1/2017 is 25.5 years – the oldest is 48 while the youngest recruit is just 20. Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr addressed the recruits at the beginning of the parade, noting his pride and that of the city’s. “This is a highlight of your 17 weeks in training and we know that the city

“This is a highlight of your 17 weeks in training and we know that the city have taken you away from your normal and everyday life,” he said. “I want to thank your partners and families, your mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, for allowing us for the past 17 weeks… to be able to put you through this rigorous training session you went through. The people of Dublin, as you well know, are very proud and we have great respect [for] our emergency services, and with good reason.”

The demonstration of skills including a very impressive foot drill demonstration, consisting of 600 individual movements that were memorised and performed flawlessly. Following a community fire safety demonstration, the recruits then demonstrated their skills in a high rise rescue, hazmat incidents, an RTC with extrication and removal of patients to hospital, a response to a domestic fire incident including the use of breathing apparatus, and finally a highline rescue. At the end of the demonstrations the recruits lined up in front of the gathered crowd to receive their scrolls – the Silver Axe award was presented to recruit firefighter and former Defence Forces member Darren Murphy. “I was looking for a change and I felt that Dublin Fire Brigade could give that change to me. It’s different from the Defence Forces because you’re learning new skills,” he told TheJournal.ie. “I wouldn’t have done anything with the BA through the Defence Forces, or road traffic collisions, so it’s totally new skills that I’m learning while bringing the skills I had from the forces in with me to the fire brigade. It’s a great service to give to the city and I wanted to be a part of that service.”

Chief Fire Officer Fleming also spoke to the newest members of Dublin Fire Brigade, first paying tribute to the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing, in which 22 people were killed and dozens more injured. “While this is a day of celebration, I think we should acknowledge the horrific attack in Manchester, and our thoughts and prayers are with the relatives and friends of the families involved, and indeed with our colleagues in the emergency services,” he said. “However, we have gathered here today to celebrate the passing out of Class 1/2017, which comprises 48 recruits from Dublin Fire Brigade and two recruits from Waterford Fire Service. This is a proud day for many people, primarily for the recruits of Class 1/2017, all of whom are reaping the rewards of their commitment over months of arduous training and hard work. For the instructors of Class 1/2017, under the guidance of course director A/D/O Stephen Wylie and assistant course directors A/D/Os Colm Egan and Mark Fay, all of whom have been instrumental in realising the potential of each recruit. And for you, the families, friends and loved ones, you have given the vital encouragement and support needed by each recruit in meeting the demands of their new job.”

In his speech, CFO Fleming highlighted the high standards at the DFB training centre, which are reflected in the quality and the professionalism of each of the graduating recruits. These standards have led to the OBI’s recognition as a national training centre for firefighting in Ireland. “This has also led to the provision of training for other full-time fire service recruits, and it is a very important step in the provision of harmonised national training standards,” CFO Fleming noted. “This is due in no small way to the dedication of all of the training staff here. I would also like to pay tribute to Assistant Chief Fire Officer Terry Kearney, the Brigade Training Officer Gerry Stanley, and to Breeda Melvin and the administrative staff here at the training centre.”

The recruits have completed a total of 29,120 hours of instruction from DFB instructors alongside training from Dublin Bus, An Garda Síochána, Renault and Luas, preparing them for the wide variety of incidents they are sure to encounter in the years ahead. Irish fire services, including Dublin Fire Brigade, have a proud tradition of serving communities across the country, well respected by the communities they serve. Going forward, the members of Class 1/2017 will have a duty to continue this tradition.

“The history of our service is interwoven with the history of the city itself. We are very proud of our long-standing service but it also imposes a duty on us, a duty to uphold the traditions and standards of our service. The training you have received here is to enable you to serve the people of Dublin in their hour of need, but it is also to keep you safe while you are doing that,” said CFO Fleming. “Every recruit here is following in the footsteps of a long line of firefighters who have carried their badge for their fire service with pride and honour. You are entrusted with that duty, and I am confident that you will carry it out faithfully. Finally, I wish each of you every success and fulfilment in your future career in the fire service. I have no doubt that you will continue to deliver a first-class service to the citizens of the city and county that you serve.”

Nutgrove – At the heart of the community

Nutgrove’s annual open day was a huge success, raising vital funds for children with autism and their families.

Back once more for the third year in a row, Nutgrove fire station’s annual open day proved a big success.Showcasing Dublin Fire Brigade and a number of other emergency response organisations, providing entertainment for kids of all ages, and displaying several vintage (and a few modern) emergency services vehicles, proceedings from the day were in aid of Snowflake, a children’s charity that provides support for kids with autism, as well as their parents and siblings, organising social events, support meetings, workshops and other supports.

Turnout on the day was huge, with the station yard and engine bay thronged from early on. Attended by An Cathaoirleach Cormac Devlin from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Dublin City Council Lord Mayor Brendan Car and Chief Fire Officer Pat Fleming, the open day also played host to a number of emergency services organisations.

“It went really well, we had a few new attendees such as Dublin Airport Fire Service, the Defence Forces and the Coast Guard. The Green Goddess vintage appliance also made a welcome return after a break last year, alongside the RSA, BUMBLEance, the Order of Malta, 501st Legion Garrison, Heroes Unite Ireland, two fire tenders owned by Liam Moore, and an ex-Dublin Civil Defence truck owned by Jerry from Dublin Mountain Rescue,” explains Derek Riordan, a firefighter on C watch who has been instrumental in organising the annual open day. “It goes without saying that having CFO Fleming, and three of the Assistant Chief Fire Officers, there was fantastic, a major highlight. It was nice for the senior officers to come and see the fruits of our labour. Dublin’s Lord Mayor and An Cathaoirleach Cormac Devlin attending on the day was another major achievement for us. The day couldn’t have gone better.”

Derek Riordan, CFO Pat Fleming, Lord Mayor Brendan Carr and ACFO Dennis Keeley.

Also there was Blood Bikes East (BBE), which has been in operation since 2012, using a fleet of five bikes and a car donated by Annseley Williams and Skoda Ireland for the year to transport blood and other emergency items out of hours. “We’re full on, full service emergency service out of hours transport. From 7pm Monday to Friday we’ll go from the lock up and around, we’ll get calls from the different hospitals around the city. We’ll use the Pan European bike to go to the country, link ups with other blood bike groups. And then on the weekend it’s 24 hours a day for Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays,” says Denver Breslin, BBE committee member.

As BBE isn’t State-funded, they have to turn to the public to keep their doors open and their engines on. They set up their stall at No 8’s open day to show their support, and also to raise awareness about what they do. “It’s all about visibility and getting the publicity from it. We’re not here collecting today but it’s about getting the name out there and getting the public’s perception of us, because a lot of people don’t actually realise that we’re not HSE-funded or we’re not Government-funded,” Breslin adds. “Anybody that we speak to is surprised that we’re all volunteers, we do it out of our own time, we don’t take a wage. A lot of people are surprised by that.”

A cheque for €4,312 was presented to Snowflake in early May.

Community support

Derek is quick to point out that Nutgrove’s open day is by no means a one-man show. Support in organising the day came from all quarters – the crew of C watch, Dublin Fire Brigade administration, colleagues in the voluntary emergency response groups as well as the local and wider community. An Garda Síochána assisted with the traffic plan to ensure a steady flow on the day; shops like Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, SuperValu in Templeogue and Churchtown and even Dunnes Stores in Citywest pitched in with teas and coffees; DFB itself provided funding for the DJ and face painters. Local woman Alison Behan again lent her culinary skills, providing around 250 muffins for hungry attendees, again refusing to take any compensation for her time and expenses.

In addition, Starbucks in the nearby Nutgrove Shopping Centre sent across two of their employees to help dispense drinks throughout the afternoon, accompanied by shortbread biscuits, cakes, and their own brand of coffee. Any of the money that came in was 100 per cent profit,” says Derek. “I’d like to say a big thank you to Felicity Gill from Dún Laoghaire – Rathdown County Council, she played a major part. The lads on the watch were absolutely fantastic, nobody said no to anything. All of the watches were great, they all contributed in some way, shape or form which was brilliant. We also had a lot of donations from DFB family and friends.”

The result of these efforts, and the weeks and months of planning, was a cheque for €4,312 that was presented to Snowflake in early May and which will undoubtedly be put to good work. “It’s a fantastic cause,” Derek explains. “One of the lads on the watch, his cousin’s son has autism and he was involved in setting up this children’s autism support group. Anything relating to autism, whether it be young or old, is a worthy cause.”

Sarahs’ record row

Sarah Good

Dublin Fire Brigade’s Sarah Good and rower Sarah Doyle have set and smashed a world record for tandem rowing this year.

On St. Patrick’s Day 2017, while most of the country was celebrating our national holiday with a pint and a parade, one of Dublin Fire Brigade’s personnel was down in Passage West Rowing Club, Co Cork. Taking turns over the course of the day, Sarah Good (a nine-year veteran working on A watch No 8) and Sarah Doyle (a friend of Sarah’s from outside the world of DFB) managed to set and break an Irish and world record respectively for the 100km tandem row, finishing in an impressive time of 7 hours 29 minutes and 22 seconds. “Another in a long string of ridiculous ideas!” Sarah Good explains with a laugh.

Though it’s quite the achievement, the two Sarahs’ record-breaking effort wasn’t simply a matter of personal pride. As firefighters tend to do, they were raising funds for a very worthy cause (which undoubtedly provided some motivation) – children’s hospice and palliative care provider LauraLynn. As Sarah explains, her fiancé Doug’s nephew passed away several years ago, having received a lot of love and care from the team at LauraLynn. “Obviously the family feel very strongly about the organisation and try to give back as much as possible,” she says. “I try to row in when I can, try and do a bit of fundraising whenever I can. It’s an unbelievable organisation – it’s one of those charities that you don’t have to work very hard fundraising for, because people want to give to it. It’s just extraordinary.”

Training day

Although Sarah is no stranger to rowing machines, her friend Sarah Doyle is the rower, and regularly competes in events around the country. However, despite completing a number of half marathons and marathons, she had never competed in a 100km distance event before. Given that Sarah Good was in the same age group and weight class – and willing to give it a go – team LauraLynn was formed.

“There was about four months of prep,” says Sarah. “I do a lot of other training for other disciplines and sports, and with that your fitness and strength stands to you. It was just about incorporating rowing into my training programme. We have a rower in the station thank God, so I was able to get miles in while I was at work.”

Facing a 100km row might seem like a daunting task (and there’s no doubt that it is), but the key to overcoming the hurdle is by breaking it into small chunks. Both rowers worked in 2km intervals, swapping over roughly every eight minutes while trying not to lose any momentum. “The structure of the event was different than anything I had done before, because we were working as a tandem team. She was going, then I was going – it was a really long event where half of it you were active, and half recovering. It was unusual. The transitions were a bit chaotic, but it was great,” says Sarah. “We had in our head [to finish in] eight hours. I knew fairly soon into it that we would be able to get seven and a half hours, and we really just got that in our head then.”

World rowing record

Record confirmed

The team’s efforts paid off – as the odometer clicked past 100km they had set an Irish and world record in their category, raising almost €1,000 for LauraLynn. “We named the team for the day LauraLynn, so the record will go into LauraLynn’s name – something nice for them to hang on the wall. It was brilliant, really cool,” Sarah explains, while noting they weren’t alone down in Cork. Both of their respective other halves provided support from start to finish. “They were there for the entire time – Doug drove me down, drove me back up from Cork to go to work straight after it, gave us physio on the day and more. The two of them were just brilliant, they were great. It really is a team of four for a two-person event,” Sarah adds.

Now that she’s had a taste of success with oars in hand, does Sarah see herself taking up rowing on top of her other sporting interests? “I would have an interest in doing the odd thing for sure,” she says. “It would be something you’d tip in and out of, try another event, especially as Sarah is involved in it and likes to compete in events as well. It’s something different, it’s good.”

Care and support

LauraLynn provides palliative care and support for children with life-limiting conditions and their families, allowing parents to act as parents rather than full-time carers. Supporting children from birth to age 18 for free, LauraLynn is also piloting a home care programme in Dublin North-East and Dublin Mid Leinster, providing hospice care for children in the comfort of their own homes.

To learn more about LauraLynn or to donate/fundraise, phone 01 289 3151, email [email protected] lauralynn.ie or visit lauralynn.ie.

 

Training day

The OBI played host to a two-part mass casualty training exercise for Class 1/2016 last November, writes Conor Forrest.

Last November, recruits from Class 1/2016 reported to the OBI as part of their paramedic training, having graduated earlier this year and spent the intervening time in their respective stations. They would be taking part in a mass casualty training exercise that day, a test of their skills in the field based on course objectives which have been set by PHECC (the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council) on gathering vital information, delivering a clear picture of the scene to control and command, and designating certain areas for casualty clearance, ambulance arrival, etc.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend a similar exercise held in the Phoenix Park, which featured the aftermath of a house party gone wrong. This one, however, was a little different in terms of scale. Though the recruits were told they would be taking part in a mass casualty exercise, they weren’t told what to expect. The brainchild of tutor Joe Brady, one of the first practitioners to reach the scene of the recent shooting in Whitehall, onlookers watched as two vehicles entered the yard at speed, screeching to a halt. A mass of armed gardaí tumbled from the vehicles and spread out, bearing down on the rear of the building where there were reports of shooters inside a nightclub. Following an explosion, several masked men emerged from the building and engaged in a shootout with gardaí. The armed unit then moved into the building, clearing it room by room, ensuring the scene was safe for first responders to enter.

Members of the ERU arrive on scene

Once they got the go ahead, DFB crews began to arrive – some began to assess the emerging casualties, while others entered the building to assess and remove the more critically wounded. With music pumping inside the club, the responders had to focus on the tasks at hand and ignore any distractions – their instructors were looking for mental strength in the face of disorientation and pressure. Outside on the quad a casualty clearance station area was set up, with patients brought in, assessed, and then transferred into the waiting ambulances. Though some might have been expecting a different scenario, a second exercise began with the shooting of the assembled crowd from the earlier incident.

“The exercise was designed to test their response to a mass casualty incident; we were looking at their role as first practitioners on the scene, their communication skills, their ability to do what is called a triage sieve – a first look at the patient and then allocate a triage card. If they’re really badly injured they get a red, if they’re not so badly injured they get a yellow, and then the walking wounded can be brought off to a separate area and then bussed off scene,” explains Paul Lambert, EMS training coordinator in the OBI. “It’s about getting into the practice of encountering something that they won’t come across that often, it’s not normal medicine, they don’t come and treat the first person they see – their job is to categorise all of the casualties and to find out which is the highest priority.”

Coordination

Understandably, organising this exercise was a complex process, liaising with An Garda Síochána and the Civil Defence. “Joe Brady decided that since it was in the news and something that there is a possibility of happening – an active shooter scenario – he decided on this format. He interfaced with a number of other agencies, the Civil Defence, An Garda Síochána and the Garda Emergency Response Unit,” Lambert explains. “Logistically it was a big ask, because there are a lot of factors to take into account to develop an exercise that will run well.”

Instructor Dan Fynes readies his crew to enter the building

The first thing to consider was health and safety – designing an exercise plan, conducting a risk assessment, mitigating any potential risks that arose during the planning stage and appointing a safety officer to oversee the process. Ensuring all of the necessary equipment was in place was another challenge – given the scale and scope of the exercise, the organisers needed additional trauma bags, spinal boards, field stretchers, scoop stretchers and defibrillators, and a casualty clearing station. A number of ambulances were also requisitioned from the workshop, placed on standby for use in the exercise.

As the scenario involved a shooting at a nightclub, casualties were also required, provided through the voluntary emergency response organisations. Their varied injuries were made more realistic by the work of makeup students from Dún Laoghaire. The talented students provided moulage [applying mock injuries for emergency services training purposes) – injuries such as eviscerations, penetrating injuries, everything from bruising to a major haemorrhage and eye avulsions, making for a more realistic scene and placing increased pressure on the responders.

“Our first practitioners on scene performed very well, and then our subsequent crews performed very well. It was quite arduous – we had 53 casualties and there were two separate exercises, so it was quite physically and mentally demanding on them. They had to make rapid decisions under pressure and then physically had to remove and treat the patients. It was a lot of pressure for them but we’re very happy with how they performed, and I think they found it to be a very valuable learning experience,” Lambert explains. Thanks are due to all who volunteered their time in coordinating the two exercises, totalling over 100 casualties.

Joe Brady deserves a special mention for his hard work in bringing his idea from concept to execution, liaising with outside agencies and with various elements within DFB, organising the moulage which provided a layer of added realism, and whose effort was vindicated at the end of the day. “I was also very impressed with the tutors in the OBI and the amount of hard work they have done,” says Lambert. “It was a very well thought out exercise, and very well executed.”

Tricky triage

Among the many skills being tested through the incident was the firefighters’ ability to perform a triage sort, a more in depth way of assessing a patient. “They assess the respiratory rate, their systolic blood pressure and their Glasgow coma score, and based on those three things they apportion them a score, and then those patients are moved to the hospital first – it’s like a filtering system,” Lambert explains. “We filter through the casualty clearing station, the people that need to get off scene quickest, and then we can designate those to the hospitals to make sure that the hospitals receive the most critical patients first.”

Firefighters were also tasked with relaying a methane message – declaring a major emergency, providing the exact location, the type of incident, hazards, access, the number and severity of the injured and any extra resources required.

Station profile: B watch No 6

Conor Forrest paid a visit to Kilbarrack fire station and the crew on B watch No 6, headed up by recent arrival S/O Robert Young.

Kilbarrack is a station with a few new faces. One of the most recent additions to B watch No 6 is Graham Forde, a new recruit who passed out from the OBI last October. When we spoke he was only six weeks into his new career, but was very much enjoying it. Graham’s background is in the financial sector, and he spent seven years there before travelling to Australia. It was while he was overseas that he heard that DFB was recruiting, so he flew home to put his name in the hat. “I’ve always had an interest in being involved in emergency services, and the fire brigade was obviously my number one choice,” he says. “There were 50 of us in the class. There were tough days and not so tough days [in training], but we all got through it together. The BA course was the toughest course but the most enjoyable at the same time.”

Graham and his classmates returned to the OBI in the new year to undergo their paramedic training, but for those initial weeks and months he was relishing the chance to learn on the job. “It’s always something different in every call that you’re going out to,” he explained. “It’s good to get that early experience. Soon after leaving the O’Brien Institute and before we go back to do paramedic training we’ve got some exposure to what we’re going to be dealing with down the line.”

Station Officer Robert Young is another recent addition, having transferred from Tallaght to Kilbarrack in June 2016. S/O Young joined the job back in 1995 and has experienced life in quite a number of stations during those 21 years, first as a firefighter and then as a floating sub officer and station officer on A and D watch, based in Tara Street but covering all the stations north and south of the Liffey.

“The last officer they had was here for a good number of years and it was a big change for them – they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, because I had never worked on B watch. When I arrived it was a clean slate and I decided that I was not going to change anything, I was just going to work away and we would find each other along the way. But straight away I felt comfortable, we had a good rapport. We have a lot of craic but we get the job done – they’re very professional,” he explains. The challenges and risk factors compared to his previous post in Tallaght have changed. “It’s an older population here – we have several nursing homes in the locality. We also have the DART line and local station here, we cover Howth, near the harbour and Clontarf – there are a lot of gorse fires during the summer,” he adds. “We also cover the Airport and Beaumont Hospital, so it’s a large area to cover with a lot of risks, as in most areas.”

S/O Robert Young

Talk soon turns to the crew on B watch. My immediate impression was of a tight-knit group of firefighters, well able to have the craic but also more than willing to work hard when required. It’s a sentiment with which their S/O agrees. “We have a great diverse crew, all very enthusiastic. We also have an advanced paramedic, Clint, which gives us another dimension to have when we arrive at certain incidents. But the rest of the crew are well capable of doing it as well, they have great knowledge,” he says. “Every generation it’s different, technology keeps changing and the training keeps changing. Graham hasn’t completed his paramedic course yet, but when he does he will be extremely well trained compared to the standard years ago.”

There are plenty of old hands too at No 6. The crew’s mess man, for example, is Bryan Quinn, a 16-year veteran of the job. Following six months in Tara Street, a year in Blanchardstown and a second six-month stint in HQ he was posted to Kilbarrack, where he has been ever since. “The job is great – day to day you don’t know what’s next or what’s going to happen,” he reflects. “It’s a family. Without a doubt I would recommend this job to anyone. It’s an honest living, and generally speaking you are well respected.”

Behind the wheel

Alongside his role as station officer at No 6, S/O Young is also one of six DFB driving instructors, a role he’s held for the past 12 years. All of the instructors have been trained to the RSA ESDS (Emergency Services Driving Standard) and whenever a new vehicle enters service, the instructors ensure the capabilities of those who’ll be behind the wheel. For example, Dublin Bus recently donated a double-decker bus to DFB, which will undoubtedly be put to good use. Around 72 personnel within the job previously worked as bus drivers or mechanics, and hold the relevant licence. S/O Young was dispatched to the OBI to provide a refresher course in bus driving should the need ever arise.

“Twelve years ago they were looking for driving instructors, and I was asked if I would be interested in it,” he recalls. “We completed a course with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) in England – they came over and trained us for three weeks in advanced driving techniques. We also had to complete our approved driving instructor (ADI) training with the RSA.”

For anybody interested in becoming a driver, the first step after approval is to undertake a provisional C licence. Following four days of training on the truck in the OBI, a fifth day is spent testing your abilities in the test centre in Finglas. If you pass you’ll return to your station and gradually take on driving responsibilities, firstly on returning from an incident outside of an emergency situation, for a total of about 40 hours. That’s followed by a return to the OBI to undergo the ESDS course for two weeks, training with blue lights and driving both the ambulance and fire appliance. The next step is even further advanced driver training, after which you’ll be ready to drive in any situation.

Graham Forde

“ That process has changed over the years – at one stage, if you had the licence, you would present yourself at the workshop, undergo a simple test and then you were good to go,” S/O Young explains. “The standard has come up a lot over the years, and it needs to – traffic has become heavier, vehicles are more powerful. It’s a serious situation, driving around the city in blue lights, for up to 15 hours sometimes. You need to have your wits about you.”

Training days

One of the first things I noticed when I stepped foot inside S/O Young’s office is the amount of cards hanging in the window. Most are messages of thanks to crews across all four watches, for lives and homes saved, prompt responses and even educational visits hosted in the station or the community’s schools. S/O Young agrees when I comment that there must be a strong community spirit in the area, and fostering and developing that is something he feels is quite important. “We do a lot of community visits, there’s a great community spirit in the area. We do school visits, host fun days and many other events,” he tells me. “We also have a lot of visitors who come in. We recently hosted the local Men’s Shed, from all different walks of life, all now retired, and they were very impressed.”

The sheer amount of wide open space within the confines of the station also caught my eye. S/O Young explains that prior to the opening of the OBI for training purposes in 1985, for many decades recruits honed their craft in Kilbarrack – hence the impressive yard space. Alongside the usual appliances and the training tower, there are a number of features within the yard that are somewhat unusual. Take, for example, the standalone gym, built using funds saved by the station’s focus in recent years on renewable energy. A string of windmills whir away mounted high up in the yard, and at the rear of the station, beneath several leafy trees, is a garden featuring benches and a commemorative monument, a symbol of Dublin Fire Brigade and its strong links with communities across the city and county.

The garden is maintained by a number of retired DFB personnel, who come in every Monday to ensure it’s kept in tip-top shape. They also keep an eye on the station’s beehive which was introduced several years ago to promote biodiversity within the grounds. “They never bother us at all, they just stay over there and there are no issues,” S/O Young says with a laugh. “There are a few racket balls in there that we can’t retrieve at the moment. But nobody to my knowledge has ever been stung.”

Before I leave, I ask S/O Young what he enjoys most about the job. He smiles and leans back, considering his answer. He touches briefly on the craic the crew enjoy every day, and enjoying a job in which no two days are the same. Finally he settles on the opportunity Dublin Fire Brigade personnel have every day – to save lives and make a difference to Dublin’s citizens, though he’s quick to note that they’re just doing their job.

“Normally when people meet us it’s not a good occasion. You’re not looking for thanks, but you do feel you make a difference in the area, and you hope you leave a good impression of the brigade,” he says. “I hope my son Karl, who is a firefighter in the retained station in Skerries, experiences as much enjoyment and fulfilment in his career as I have experienced during my time in the brigade.”

The social scene

DFB’s Sports and Social Club recently held two fun-filled social nights for members in Dublin city centre.

Dublin Fire Brigade is a social organisation – different stations are involved in various events in their local communities, and firefighters across the job are often promoting or taking part in sports, historical or social events in the city. It’s an aspect that the DFB Sports and Social Club is keen to promote and, after a period of absence due to the recession, the annual club nights returned in late 2015, initiated by committee member Paul Marsh from Dún Laoghaire and held in the River Bar on Burgh Quay. A change in the tender process for vendors for events like the kids’ summer party freed up some funds, which Marsh suggested the Club invest in reviving the social nights. “We cover the families with the kids, we cover everything from athletics to cricket – there is a gap there, I think, especially as there are two new classes of recruits,” says Paul.

The first social night of 2016, on November 17th, was held for those on B and D watch, while A and C watches got their turn the following Thursday night – the idea was to bring together those who wouldn’t normally meet one another starting or finishing a shift. Each night featured spot prizes, a certain amount of free drinks and party games, and pitted a member of each watch against one another. “I brought people up and had a quiz – we had a phonetic alphabet quiz for the lads in the control room, questions involving the fire brigade and medical questions,” says Paul. “I got one from C watch and one from A watch, just to get a bit of banter and a bit of craic going. This year, because we had two classes of recruits, we focused on them. I think the recruits enjoyed getting involved.”

Alongside increased attendance on the previous year’s social nights, the Club received a boost in the form of 20 new members. As a result, the social nights are very much back on the Club calendar. “What we’re hoping to do this year is a 999 night – that’s what we used to do in the late nineties,” Paul adds. “We had a couple of them – nurses, guards, firefighters – when we had the Ierne ballroom. They were brilliant nights and I’d love to get them going again.”

Getting to colleagues in DFB is the idea behind these nights out – Paul explains that the fire service is a job in which morale plays a huge role. But it’s also an opportunity to get to know people you might not ordinarily meet. “If there’s good morale you’ll work a lot better…you’re working with guys for 15 hour shifts,” he says. “The next step would be to get to know the people that are in the hospitals, or the guards when you’re out at these incidents. I just think people work better when they know each other that little bit better. You do the 40 hours a week together, but when you get to know them on a social basis as well, you’ll see a different side of them, and I think it helps.”

Class of 2016

Recruit Class 2/2016 participated in the passing out parade held in the OBI last October.

Dublin Fire Brigade welcomed 50 new recruits into its ranks on October 6th last, as Class 2/2016 successfully completed their 15 weeks of training and passed out from the DFB training centre in Marino. The ceremony was attended by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Brendan Carr, Dublin City Council Assistant Chief Executive Brendan Kenny, and the Mayor of South Dublin, Guss O’Connell.

Over the 15 weeks the recruits completed more than 37,000 combined hours of training at the hands of 60 DFB specialist instructors, complemented by instructors from An Garda Síochána, Dublin Bus, Renault Trucks and Luas. During the event they showcased their impressive range of training, covering a wide variety of skills ranging from working with BA sets and swift water rescue to dealing with road traffic collisions, Hazmat incidents and emergency first response.

Speaking on the day, Lord Mayor Carr noted the city’s pride in witnessing another cohort of highly trained firefighters beginning their new careers. “We are proud to have trained yet another class of recruits this year over the past 15 weeks. The calibre of the recruits passing out is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the instructors and of the recruits themselves,” he said. “Dublin Fire Brigade provides a vital service for the city and county of Dublin and I have no doubt that all new firefighters joining the ranks of Dublin Fire Brigade will continue to uphold that proud service.”

In memory of Ian McCormack

The crew of B watch Dolphin’s Barn unveiled a garden memorial in the grounds of the station for their colleague Ian McCormack.

On Saturday August 20th 2016,  friends, family and colleagues of Ian ‘Frodo’ McCormack gathered in the garden of Dolphin’s Barn fire station for the unveiling and blessing of a memorial axe in his memory. The date marked six months that weekend since Ian’s passing.

Ian’s colleagues on B watch invited a small group of close relatives and friends for the unveiling shortly after the beginning of the night duty, with refreshments afterwards in the station mess hall. After an introduction from S/O Tom Doolan the local priest said a few short words and Ian’s son Alex cut the ribbon and unveiled the axe. The axe itself simply has the words ‘Frodo 1170’ sandblasted and painted onto it and is embedded into a granite stone in the garden and lit up in the evening with spotlights.

There are words of thanks needed for some people who were involved in bringing the evening together with the small project taking a few weeks to plan. The garden was brought back to life and rejuvenated by Chris Keeley (B watch) who spent days working tirelessly in the garden alongside an army of helpers with Martin Keogh there to supervise! The sand blasting was done by a local stonemason from Loughlinstown called Peter Kelly who gave his services for free and did a superb job as anyone who has seen the finished memorial would agree. A special thanks to Stephen McMenamy for sourcing the axe that was used.

Finally, a mention to Craig Lancaster who is manager of the Tesco Express in Dolphin’s Barn for his contribution of a community voucher to assist us in organising the refreshments, along with Third Officer John Keogh who also assisted us in the organisation of the evening. Ian is sadly missed by everyone but hopefully this small memorial will help his memory live on and serve as a reminder to us of the laughter and memories he gave us.

B watch No 2